Who Is Your Love Teacher?

by Jeff McMahonOnce upon a time my love teacher and I traveled to Mexico to spend some days living in a thatched hut, swimming in the sea, and soaking up some sun. We lived in a community of yogis who dressed mainly in loose shawls, which they dropped to the sand when they wanted to swim, entering the sea naked.
My love teacher relished the freedom to go topless on that beach, but her skin was not accustomed to the Mexican sun, and her sunscreen was no match for it.
One night after a day of sun she felt unbearably feverish. So we slipped inland across the highway, dodging fast cars and thirsty mosquitos, and entered a garden in pitch darkness—for there was no electricity—to steal a leaf from an aloe plant.
Back in our hut, we lit candles, peeled the succulent leaf, pressed out its gooey juices and rubbed them on her skin.
This memory is so vivid to me—her tender red skin, the bright green leaf, the fresh ocean breeze, the cricketsong that rose and rose again between each crashing wave—so much more vivid than the ashen world in which I now sit, alone with pen and paper, recording it.
There have been many such moments with her: moments richer than imagination.
I suspect this is what the philosopher Alan Watts meant when he wrote these words:
“The mysterious and unsought uprising of love is the experience of complete relationship with another, transforming our vision not just of the beloved, but of the whole world.”
The Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhất Hạnh has also written of this vividness, in his understated Zen way. When he was a young monk in Vietnam, Nhất Hạnh fell in love with a nun. Forbidden by their vows from intimate touch, they just talked for hours, until his throat was sore, and she handed him a tin of cough drops.
Under such restraint, her cough drops were as vivid, I think, as my aloe leaf:
“I still remember the trademark on that box: Pates de Vosges,” Nhất Hạnh writes. “If the abbot had given me a box of cough drops, I don’t think I would still remember the name.”
The Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche writes of vividness as well, not in the context of romantic love, but in the awakened state:
“If we see a red flower, we not only see it in the absence of ego’s complexity, in the absence of preconceived names and forms, but we also see the brilliance of that flower. If the filter of confusion between us and the flower is suddenly removed, automatically the air becomes quite clear and vision is very precise and vivid.”
It’s no coincidence that both love and awakening reveal a more vivid world. The awakened state is love, and love, when it’s true, awakens. Love has the strength to lift, if only for moments, the filter of confusion between us and the world, revealing life in its clarity.
But why only for moments? Why does our vision of our beloved and the world so often seem to fade as time passes, leaving us to wonder what became of our love?
After Alan Watts wrote of the transformed vision inspired by love, he continued with this sentence: “And so it remains until the relationship is itself abstracted by the anxiety of the grasping mind to be guarded from the rest of life as a possession.”
The villain who conspires against love is that familiar villain, the grasping mind.
If it is possible to overcome attachment, if it is possible to awaken the Buddha in each one of us, then it must also be possible to love, and to see the world vividly without end.
So many people practice yoga as a form of exercise, stress relief, even spiritual growth, without applying the teachings to their love lives. Even yogis tend to follow the conventional approach to romance, so often expressed in movies and novels, which is based on attachment and bound to result in fear, jealousy, anxiety and loss.
If yoga pertains to anything it pertains to love.
As we deepen our yoga practice we may come to see that our yoga practice is a love practice. Yoga brings us to the experience of non-separation, to the ever-present within where we know we are all one—and this is of course where love resides.
On this path, whomever we love becomes our love teacher.
Teachers and Teachings:
Thich Nhat Hanh, “Cultivating the Mind of Love” (review)
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism” (book)

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